When an Ear Infection Turns Into Ear Surgery

Most ear infections can be eliminated with the usual treatment, but when that doesn’t work, it may be time to talk about surgery.

Ear infections can lead to surgery. By: Elsie esq.
Ear infections sometimes lead to surgery. By: Elsie esq.

Ear infections can be painful for your pet and require extra trips to the veterinarian. They might also lead to surgery.

Otitis externa, or an ear infection, is one of the most common reasons to visit the vet with a dog or a cat. The most commonly affected canine breed, by far, is the Cocker Spaniel.

You may notice redness, a discharge and a bad odor. Pets with ear infections show signs of pain, scratching and head shaking. Some pets are in so much pain that they stop playing, lose their appetite and become “head shy.”

Ear Infection Treatment

Depending on the cause of the problem, treatment may include medications to kill parasites, yeasts or bacteria.

Medications can go into the ear (ointments or drops) or by mouth. A specific, gentle cleaning solution is often prescribed as well.

If an allergy is suspected, treating it may be the answer. It’s important to understand that ears are just an extension of the skin. Strangely, skin disease can be strictly confined to the ear. If excessive hair is a contributing factor, learning how to pluck hair or having a groomer do it is important.

When Surgery Becomes an Option

When all of the usual treatments fail, the only option may be surgery.

By then, the ear canal is a swollen, painful, smelly mess. The lining is so thickened that medications simply do not reach the source of the problem — the very bottom of the ear canal.

This is critical to understand. If the ear canal is too thick, you can pour all the medications in the world in there, but it is a waste of money. They physically cannot go through.

Surgery is then recommended. There are various options. In many advanced or terminal cases, the most appropriate surgery is a total ear canal ablation (TECA). This means exactly what it says: The entire ear canal is removed.

In addition, this is the only surgery that allows a lateral bulla osteotomy — meaning that the TECA allows cleaning up the bulla.

And what’s a bulla? The bulla is a “bony bubble” at the bottom of the ear canal, and it is part of the skull. Once the eardrum ruptures, pus and debris accumulate inside the bulla; the only option to clean it up is along with a TECA. Failing to clean up the bulla leads to failure of the surgery and a nasty, delayed infection.

Prognosis With This Surgery

As invasive as the TECA sounds, results are typically excellent. The prognosis is also better than with other, less invasive surgery options.

Only the TECA takes care of the entire problem — ear canal and bulla. When the surgery is over, there is no ear canal; therefore, you will never have to use another ear medication. There isn’t even an opening to put the meds in!

The next question is: Who will do the surgery? As there are undeniably possible complications (deafness is usually not one of them), you want an experienced veterinarian or veterinary surgeon to perform surgery on your pet. Although complications do occur even with the best board-certified surgeons, you should choose someone who does ear surgery regularly.

Ultimately, TECA is the most successful option. Most clients are extremely grateful that their pet can finally live a comfortable life.

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